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Chapter 1 : kindness from a stranger
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CI by the wonderful milominderbinder @ TDA.
Ever since I turned eighteen, I've hated Christmas. Mum and dad thought that, by then, I'd have gotten some idea of what to do with my life. An education, a job, a boyfriend. Alas, that did not happen.
By the time I was 23, and there was still no significant other, they strongly believed I was a lesbian. I wish I were a lesbian.
I moved out of my parents' house right after Hogwarts, being sick of their lifestyle, and the stress of being a part of their family. I distanced myself by moving far, far away. To London.
Okay, not that far away, but still a few hours of driving. But seeing as my parents were magical and could Apparate anywhere they wanted to, I had to be sneaky. I worked long hours and always came up with excuses to why I couldn't see them.
That doesn't mean I didn't see them all the time though. In papers and magazines, that is.
Oh, I haven't mentioned it? My parents are Harry and Ginny Potter.
And being an antisocial, withdrawn girl with a fear of big crowds set me apart from my family. I prefered solitude, and lived my life through characters in books rather than reality. The world in my head was way better than the world outside it anyway.
But I digress.
Every Christmas I was forced to spend the holidays with my family. From December 24th to January First. Eight whole days. Eight horrible days that seemed to last an eternity. It was usually spent with me sitting in the background, a corner, hiding, sipping eggnog and sweating. I tended to sweat a lot when I was under pressure. You have no idea how many times I had to change my sweaters and put on deoderant.
And every single Christmas I managed to disappoint my parents even more than the last.
Especially since I'm not getting any younger. I'm now 27. Almost thirty. Half-way to 54.
And I have still no idea of what to do with my life.
And worse...no boyfriend. Not even close. Not by a longshot.
So you can only imagine how much I dreaded visiting my family this Christmas.
"Yes, mum," I say into the phone for the fourteenth time in the last seven minutes.
"But you're always the last one to arrive!" she presses on, and I bite my lip. "Remember that Christmas when you snuck into the house at three a.m. and woke up the entire house when you set off the alarm syst-?"
"Bloody hell, mum!" I groan. "When will you get over that? It's three years ago!"
I remove the phone from my face and jump around in frustration, punching the air, and sneering for a few seconds. I can still hear mum rambling on in the phone and take a deep breath before putting it back next to my ear.
"- wear the white and red outfit I sent you. Or else we won't match in pictures."
"Is it really that important to make the entire family wear matching clothes, mum?" I sigh and pull my fingers through my hair.
"I know you hate it, but it's for your grandmother. Besides, everyone else will be wearing the outfits, and you don't want to stick out, do you?"
She has a point. I hate sticking out, being the center of attention makes me nauseated.
"Fine," I growl.
"So..." she says and I brace myself. I know what's coming. "Anyone else joining us this holiday season? Any...special someone currently in your life?"
I knew it would come, it does every year, but I never know what to say.
"What about that last boy you told us about?" she continues, and I mentally reprimand myself.
I should never have told her that I was seeing someone. Because I did see someone - for a week. And he was my boss. And he only dated me for sex. When I wouldn't give it up after the seventh day he dumped me, and then fired me for good measure.
Yeah, that wasn't a good time.
"What was his name again..." mum mumbles, and I feel my throat clogging up. "Something with an S... Stephen? Smith? Stanl-"
"Michael, mum," I interrupt. "His name was Michael."
Oh, no. I hate that tone. The disappointment, the fact that she doesn't even sound surprised... Like she expected it.
So... I make it all worse.
"No, not was. Is. His name is Michael," I ramble. "Slip of the tongue, you know."
"Well, great!" Mum sounds excited and I immediately hate myself. I despise lying. I feel bad and lose sleep over it weeks later.
I need to nip this in the bud right now.
"So you'll bring him, right? It's time we met the bloke who's managed to capture our daughter's heart."
I swallow hard. How can I wiggle myself out of this one?
"H-He's going to spend the holidays working," I lie.
What happened to 'nipping it in the bud', Lily?!
"What? But people don't work at Christmas! Almost everything's closed."
"Not in the city, mum," I try, but mum scoffs.
"We only live a few hours away from London, darling. We're not cave people."
I sit down on my bed, it squeals in protest. I really need to buy a new one...
"I didn't mean-"
"Well, if he's too busy to come spend Christmas with his own girlfriend, then-"
"Mum, don't do that," I interrupt and fling myself against the lumpy mattress. "He's a good guy, he's just very...professional."
"Professional?" mum asks, sounding surprised. I get angry.
"You don't think I can date a man who's professional?"
"He is! Very professional."
"Fine," mum caves. "But I still think he should come. Or..."
"Darling, are you... I'm sorry, but... Did you make him up?"
"Is he someone you've read about in a book?"
"I'm sorry, but it wouldn't be the first time."
"I was seven," I remind her through gritted teeth. "And he wasn't my boyfriend. He was an imaginary friend. It's very common for kids to-"
"Oh, I know, dear. You always prefered the imaginary."
Okay. Now I'm angry.
"You know what, mum?" I spit. "We'll be there."
"Fantastic!" she exclaims. "Your father will be ecstatic. He never thought this day would come. I'll see you tomorrow, then! Bye bye."
And she hangs up.
And I'm about ready to hang up too -- on my life.
"I'm fucked," I say aloud to myself, and whimper.
"Yes, you're fucked."
I'm sitting by the counter at the bar where I work, and regretting having confided in my best friend. Who also happens to be my co-worker.
"Thanks, Jane," I deadpan.
"What?" she asks as she organizes the menus. "You said so yourself."
"Yes, but you're my best friend. You're supposed to say some cheery crap to make me feel better!"
"But...that would be lying."
I put my forehead on the mahogony counter.
"I hate my life..." I mumble. "It's not even funny anymore."
"Has it ever been funny?"
I look up and glare at Jane. Despite the fact that she's a total bitch, she's undeniably pretty. Which sometimes makes it hard to like her. Especially for someone as awkward and weirdly proportioned as myself. My eyes are too big for my face and my lips are too thin. And I have man-sized feet.
"At one point I could actually see some humour in my pathetic life situation, but now I can only see a large pile of regret and misery," I say in a monotone voice and put my chin on my hand.
"And apparently lies," Jane so easily reminds me, and I groan. "So how are you going to tell your parents about the fake successful boyfriend?"
"I'll put it in my will. They'll find out when I'm dead. Then I can't witness their disappointment anymore."
"So you'll just keep him away from them forever? Good plan. You've totally thought this through."
I scowl at the brunette.
"Has anyone ever told you that you're too sarcastic?"
Jane just shrugs. "Someone has to keep your feet on the ground."
"Oh, believe me, my feet are on the ground. Actually, they're buried under the ground. I'm perfectly aware of how much shit I'm in. Not just with this boyfriend lie, but my whole life after Hogwarts..."
"Yeah, saying no to that Auror internship was pretty dumb," Jane says. This stings. Because I know how right she is.
"But I didn't want to be 'the daughter of Harry and Ginny Potter' and surf through life living off of their fame. I wanted to make something of myself. Be known as something different... But who am I kidding? I'm Lily Potter - a loveless failure."
"Hey, Jane!" Our boss, Eugene Lewis, pops his head out of the backroom and snaps his fingers. "You're here to work, not chat with Lily. Besides, isn't this her day off?"
Jane looks at me and then back at Eugene.
"Sorry, Eugene, but there was a crisis," she explains. "She needed my expert opinion."
"I'm positively filled with concern for all of your problems, Lily Potter, but could you please let Jane work now?"
"Sorry, Eugene," I say and sigh. His head disappears into the backroom again, and Jane scurries off to table number nine to get their order.
I put my forehead back onto the countertop, and groan loudly.
"Pardon me," someone behind me says and I jump at the sound of the stranger's voice.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you!" he hurries to add. It's a 'he'. And a somewhat cute one, too. I decide to not act as my usual grumpy self, and force a smile on my stiff face. I'm not used to smiling a lot anymore.
"It's okay," I tell him. He visibly relaxes.
"My apologies again, but I couldn't help but overhear. Are you... Lily Potter?"
Okay. I'll go back to grumpy Lily now.
"Yes?" I answer sceptically, before I add rudely: "And what's that to you?"
"Fantastic! Oh, well, I'm Michael Timms from the Daily Prophet and I-"
"What's your name?" I cut in.
"Michael Timms, why? Have you heard of me?"
What are the chances? Life's ironic, isn't it? Way to rub it in, Karma! (What a bitch.)
"No, should I?" I ask, covering up my sudden silence.
"Well, I'm trying to make it as a journalist. Maybe you read my piece on toothpaste and how it's slowly killing you?"
"Can't say I have."
"You didn't really miss anything, to be honest. But I'm really trying to get into real stories! Write about real people and real events. So I thought... Maybe you wanted to give me an interview?"
This makes me bark out an unattractive laugh, slash, snort. Then I pull myself together.
"Oh, ehm, you seem very sweet, but I don't do interviews."
"But an interview with a Potter could be my big break, it would mean the world to me."
"Sorry, Michael," I repeat, and look down into my hands. "I-I just don't like...interviews. Or publicity or anything."
"That's what makes it even more special," he presses on. "The Potters almost never give out formal interviews. And a piece about your family during the holidays would be front page."
"Yeah, that's the iffy part for me," I say and swallow hard.
"Why?" he asks. "You'll have your picture on the front page of the Daily Prophet! Isn't that, like, every woman's dream?"
This actually makes me laugh again.
"Lets just say that I'm not a big fan of attention," I tell him and chuckle.
"Then I won't write it as an interview, I'll make it into an article, or something. Just tell me a bit about your family and what you do at Christmas time. No pictures. Not even your name, if you don't want."
He won't give up, will he?
"Do you spend Christmas with them? With your family?"
I nod. "Yeah. Every year..."
He analyses me with his eyes - his brown, warm eyes...
He's too attractive for me to really focus, so I forget to cover up my distain for this type of family function. He notices.
"I'm sorry, but... You don't sound too happy about that?"
I scoff and look at the lad beside me.
"I-I don't know how to explain it..."
"So you'll get to write a story about how Lily Potter hates spending the holidays with her famous family? How she manages to disappoint her parents year after year after year? How this time of year reminds her of all the things she hasn't got and probably never will have...ever?"
"And this year will be especially horrifying..." I add to myself.
"And why's that?"
"Because I lied. I told my mum I'd bring my boyfriend..."
"Why's that a lie? He can't make it?"
"He'd probably make it -- if he were real."
Michael the journalist's eyes pop, but he quickly arranges his face so I won't feel too much of a freak.
"So... You told your mother you had a boyfriend? And you don't."
"And you said he would spend Christmas with you and your family?"
"I even told her his name was Michael and that he was professional. Why I got into specifics, I don't know..."
"Yeah, same as you," I say bitterly.
But then I realise what I've just done.
"But please don't write that!"
"Oh, I won't. Don't worry. But..."
"Okay. I know it's going to sound crazy, but please hear me out."
I furrow my brows. "All right...?"
"I'll be your boyfriend."
I choke on my spit. And then proceed to cough - a lot. I'm so charming it hurts.
"Excuse me?" I wheeze.
"I'll pretend to be your boyfriend - I'll meet your family and spend the holidays with them."
"You get to save face, and I... Well, I get my story."
"I won't let you-!"
"No, please! Just listen, I beg you."
I put my arms over my chest.
"I won't write anything bad. You can even read it before I send it to the printers, and if you don't like it, I won't publish it."
"What will you write about?"
"Your family's traditions, behind-the-scenes at the Yule Ball your family attends every year - Christmas stuff. People will love it!"
"And you'll let me decide whether to print it or not?"
"Absolutely. It will be completely up to you. But please, give me a chance," he begs. He really does have adorable puppy eyes.
"No pictures of me," I tell him strictly. "As little about me as possible, actually."
"Deal," he agrees quickly. And I let out a long breath as I'm biting my lip in thought. "So... What do you say? Partners?" He puts out his hand.
I stare at it.
Oh, hell. What do I have to lose?
I grab his hand and shake it. Take that, Karma. Two can play this game.
"Fantastic!" he exclaims and a wide grin spreads on his face. My stomach does a double take when I see his smile. He should smile all the time. "When do we start?"
"Tomorrow," I tell him, and can't help but feeling a bit excited myself. "I'll meet you here at four."
"Here, tomorrow, four o'clock - done!" He bounces off the stool he's been sitting on, and kisses my hand before releasing it. "See you then, darling."
I giggle as he sprints out of the door and almost slips on the ice outside.
"I wish your life was a reality show," Jane notes from behind the counter. I look at her.
"No judgement!" I tell her and point my finger accusingly at her.
Jane holds her hands up in surrender and smiles innocently. "Wouldn't dream of it, Lils."
I stick my tongue out at her before getting to my feet. "I have to go pack. Bye."
"Keep me updated!" Jane calls after me, and I wave at her before exiting the pub and walking out into the snowy streets.
And for the first time in a long time, I don't feel like my life is about to end. And it's a pretty good feeling.
Yay! It's almost Christmas time! I love this time of year, and I just had to write another xmas story :D
Hope you like it!
Hugs and kisses,
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